Very old image, but Jeff Sullivan left the following comment, and I think it's worth repeating:
Regarding realistic, I ran across a great comment on Ansel Adams' intent, and I recently quoted California photographer G. Dan Mitchell on the value or relevance of simple copies of a scene:
"Adams never set out to make a true copy of a landscape."
- Lauris Morgan-Griffiths in Adams: Landscapes of the American West
"If the goal of photography was to make objectively accurate reproductions of real things... I wouldn't bother." - G. Dan Michell
With our eyes changing exposure at every point in a scene, a camera is a poor tool to record what we see, and it's even poorer at reflecting what we perceived, felt...experienced. Only the photographer's further interpretations from the dull, lifeless copy that the camera provided can come close.
Onsite your eyes certainly would have opened up the shadows on the sign text, but you still would have perceived the extremely high contrast between the sun behind and that sign. Performing that edit makes the more realistic in terms of what you perceived and experienced... subject-specific contextual details a simple camera exposure can't reflect.
A further point, but no less notable, is that the very definition of "art" requires human intervention, so for artistic merit, the billions of photos produced with the goal of exactly reflecting what the camera saw in a single exposure will rarely rise above the value of what a high resolution webcam nailed to a tree, pointed in a pleasant direction might produce. That's not to say they're not pleasant images that someone might value to hang on their wall, but surely the act of simply being there and the technician's skill of recording a passable exposure are insufficient to elevate photography to art.
The result doesn't need to be capital-A "Art" that a museum hangs or some gallery wants to sell for thousands of dollars, but to the extent that the photographer uses the tools at hand to seeks to convey experiences, emotions, or elicit a response, as an artist does, and regardless of what the unthinking, unseeing camera recorded, that's a good thing.